Google Search

On September 20, 2022, Google made an official announcement via its Search Central Twitter account that the most recent version of its Product Reviews update was rolling out. On September 26, its Ranking Updates tracking list was updated to say the rollout was complete.

Official Twitter Announcement: 

Reviews are essential to the modern-day shopping experience and help customers choose which business locations, products, and services best meet their needs. Today, 66% of local consumers say they trust online reviews as much as or more than personal recommendations. What does this latest product review algorithm update mean for multi-location brands, and how can you best use reviews  as a whole to improve your local SEO and online visibility? In this blog post, you’ll learn more about this update and what your brand can do to stay on the right side of it.

What are Product Review updates?

This latest update is the fifth in the Product Review series and comes approximately one month after the last. Previous Product Review algorithm updates were released:

  • April 8, 2021
  • December 1, 2021
  • March 23, 2022
  • July 27, 2022

This series of product review updates, alongside Google’s Helpful Content Update, are “part of a broader, ongoing effort to reduce low-quality content and make it easier to find content that feels authentic and useful in Search,” according to Public Liaison for Google Search, Danny Sullivan. Google rolled out thousands of search updates last year, based on hundreds of thousands of search quality tests, he said.

Example of a Google Product Review

Example of a Google Product Review

Tips for Writing High Quality Product Reviews

So how does this particular update result in higher quality, more authentic and useful content in organic search? This list of best practices for writing high quality product review content on Google Search Central reveals several qualities search algorithms are looking for in this type of content:

  • Knowledge of the user’s perspective.
  • Expertise in the product being reviewed.
  • In-depth research.
  • Supporting evidence such as audio, video, or links to demonstrate experience with the product.
  • Quantitative performance measures.
  • Explanation of differentiating factors and information about competitive products.
  • Original research about the product.
  • Benefits and drawbacks to present a balanced look at the product.
  • Information about how the product has evolved.
  • Information about the key decision-making factors for products in this category.
  • Description of how/why the product was designed the way it was.
  • Links to more information to help customers make a decision about the product.
  • First-hand evidence to support the recommendation.
  • Enough useful content for the review to stand on its own.

From this, we can determine what will no longer perform as well after the Product Reviews update. This includes generic, thin content written for SEO purposes (as opposed to human readers).

Why do reviews matter?

The average local consumer reads six reviews before visiting a business and some require even more convincing, with 29% reading 6-10 reviews, according to our most recent Local Consumer Behavior Study.

First-party reviews – reviews on the company’s own website – are highly impactful, with 63% of consumers indicating they are likely to influence their purchasing decision.

Here is an example of first-party reviews on a local landing page in practice:

first-party reviews

What is unique about product review strategy?

Product reviews, in particular, tend to be in-depth and highly descriptive. They help consumers understand the various features, benefits, drawbacks, limitations, and use cases of any given product. Where a local review for a restaurant or dental office visit, for example, might contain a star rating and story about the customer’s experience, a product review could contain several star ratings – one for each unique feature people expect to see in that type of product.

Another unique element in product reviews is that they often contain affiliate links. These reviews are written by an expert in the field but not the actual seller. The affiliate link directs the customer to an ecommerce site where they can make the purchase. If the reader finds the review helpful, clicks through, and completes the sale (either at that moment or within the timeframe determined by the affiliate program), the reviewer is paid a flat reward or a percentage of that sale (or both).

Google expects to see that affiliates are experts in the content they’re reviewing and does not want to see affiliate reviews making up the bulk of a site’s content. In its documentation on affiliate programs, Google states, “Affiliate program content should form only a minor part of the content of your site if the content adds no additional features.” These guidelines also note that it is important to keep content fresh and up to date to increase the likelihood it will be crawled by Googlebot.

Google warns that, “sites featuring mostly content from affiliate networks can suffer in Google’s search rankings, because they do not have enough added value content that differentiates them from other sites on the web. Added value means additional meaningful content or features, such as additional information about price, purchasing location, or product category.”

Has your site been impacted by the product reviews update?

It may be difficult to tell. Google released this product reviews update before the September 2022 core update had finished rolling out, and some websites have been contending with the impacts of the Helpful Content Update, as well. Sullivan tweeted on September 15, 2022, “We’ve worked very hard to keep updates separated from each other, or as little overlap as possible, to help creators understand more.”

He added that if the purpose of overlapping updates was to confuse SEO professionals and marketers, Google could release updates on the same day, but that they are trying to provide more helpful information so it’s clearer which update may be impacting a site.

The Google Search Central Twitter account suggests it should be fairly clear which update is in play. “If you see a change and wonder if it’s related to the core update or the product reviews update: If you produce product reviews, then it’s probably related to that. If not, then it might be related to the core update.”

However, SEOs beg to differ, with many citing two concurrent updates makes it difficult to discern which update is impacting the site in question. The jury is still out on how product reviews will ultimately impact websites and when they’ll notice a change.

Good product reviews are just good content

At the end of the day, Google is looking for the same qualities in product reviews as in all other web content – quality writing and information, insightful analysis, originality, expert knowledge, and trustworthiness among them. There is no fooling the algorithms anymore with low-quality content.

Want to learn more?